The Annual Birthday Post: Sharing Something Different

As I continue to uphold the tradition of writing an annual birthday post—most of them snarky—this one won’t be. I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to share this personal story, not because I’m afraid or embarrassed to do so, but because it requires a certain amount of vulnerability, something that’s always been a challenge for me. Vulnerability is not my strength. Just ask the people who know me well.

The story I’m about to tell starts with God. And it’s inevitable that it will end there, too.

When I cut back to part-time teaching last year with the intent to semi-retire (though I’ve hardly done that at all), the item that topped my new “THINGS TO DO LIST” was to sign up for Bible study. As an on-again, off-again practicing Catholic, I’d been getting the calling to do it, so I joined a Catholic women’s Bible study group called Walking with Purpose (a lot of Catholic Churches offer this now…I can’t even begin to tell you how worthwhile it is…it’s tremendous), and my faith life has changed. I’ve changed.

Bible study was just what I needed. It was something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. In a comfortable space, surrounded by other women, we read scripture and talk about life: the things we’ve done wrong, the things we do well, the love we have for God, and the struggles we face on a daily basis. What is discussed among those women stays among those women. There is so much trust and love.

At the end of the year, I was asked to give my personal testimony to the morning group of about 90 women (There are more than 150 women in WWP at our church). What I am about to share with you is the word-for-word testimony about my journey back to God. I was incredibly nervous to share my story, but I knew it was what I needed to do. Mind you, all along, I never stopped believing in God or Jesus; it’s just that I really lost my way for a while.

So, this year’s birthday post is something I’m sharing because it’s benefitting me in ways I could never have imagined possible a few years ago, and perhaps it will benefit you, too. As of today, I’m also on DAY 220 of Bible in a Year with Father Mike Schmitz on the Hallow App. I look forward to my mornings reading and learning more about God’s word each and every day.

So, here’s my testimony. I’m baring it all. And yes, it does get a little easier each time.

Personal Testimony for WWP, St. John the Evangelist—Stephanie Verni, May 10, 2023

I’ll begin with a simile: my faith life was like a cracked door, one not fully open. For years, the Holy Spirit was knocking on my door, and I’m embarrassed that I never fully answered. How long was I going to nod along and say, “I need to pay more attention to my faith,” but not dive back in the way I should? When your heart is being called, you should listen, especially when He (point upwards) is knocking.

Sure, I would listen to worship music. I would occasionally look at my Bible, but I didn’t know it well. While I was raised Catholic, I had very little Catholic education. Years of meandering through my faith, I realized that I wasn’t fully present. Looking back on it now, I wonder—How could I have been so tentative? My kids had been in Catholic School. We went to church on Sundays. Yet, somehow, I managed to lose my way. We moved here 10 years ago, the kids left Catholic school, and sadly my husband and I became a bit indifferent about going to church. We went to church on and off, more off than on if I’m being perfectly honest.

This led me to feeling incredibly lost. My MANY sins had piled up over the years, and I hadn’t been to confession since I was a kid, and I really needed to go, but I was scared to enter the confessional, ashamed of myself, the trials and tribulations I’d been through, and I felt broken. For years I walked around saying I needed Jesus in my life. I would actually say it out loud! And while I would pray, it wasn’t the same as jumping in with both feet.

Why did it take me so long to open the door to the Holy Spirit?

Then things began to change, and several things led me to Walking with Purpose. One of those things is the Gospel of John 4:1-42, when John relays the story of Jesus meeting the woman of Samaria by the well. When the apostles go into town for food and Jesus stays behind, John writes that Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.” The Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water, also alone, and Jesus asks for a drink. In this exchange, Jesus tells her that he can give her “living water,” stating: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” When the woman says she would like that water, Jesus tells her to go and get her husband and to come back. She replies that she has no husband, to which Jesus responds: You are right in saying ‘I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” The woman is shocked to know that Jesus knows this about her and confirms to her that He is the Christ. And then, she goes and tells all she knows that she has met the Messiah and that He has come. It’s powerful and incredibly moving.

We can see ourselves in these biblical stories. I may not be that particular woman at the well—that Samaritan woman—but I can certainly relate. I know what it’s like to feel the way she felt and to be mad at yourself for the stupid decisions and judgments you’ve made in life, or for putting your faith in the wrong things or people.

Contemporary author and researcher, Brene Brown, writes books about shame, empathy, and vulnerability, and in that gospel alone, we have all three. The Samaritan woman is vulnerable about her shame, and Jesus, in only the way He can, lets her know it will all be okay (empathy) if only she believes in Him. He came to Samaria to meet her, knowing her conversion would happen and that she would be one of many who would spread the good news. I’m glad The Holy Spirit never gave up on me, just as Jesus didn’t give up on the Samaritan woman. Having reconnected with my faith over the last year, I can also identify with the Samaritan woman wanting to shout Jesus’s name from the rooftops. My conversion started slowly over many years. I started turning to Christian music on my long commutes. Then I watched movies and shows about Jesus and encouraged my family to do the same. The door started to open. I started picking up my Bible, attending mass, and wanting to know Jesus better.

When I went part-time at my job last May, the first thing on my new “to do” list was to sign up for a Bible Study. I saw Walking With Purpose (WWP) in the bulletin and joined. And because of all of that, I want to shout WWP’s name from the rooftops to women as well. (In fact, I recently told a priest who is a friend of our family in New Jersey that his parish needs WWP!).

Our group, led by Dawn and Tanya, has been a special experience. Putting God first in our lives is a priority for all of us, and our discussions have been deeply fulfilling. Being able to comfortably and confidently share our stories in a safe sharing space while hearing the word of God and leaning into the lessons Jesus teaches us has left me with a calm I’ve never really experienced. I enjoy walking through scripture and hearing the way God’s word touches everyone in our group. Walking with Purpose helped fully bring me back to my Catholic faith. I can proudly say that I’ve been to confession (shaking the first time) and attend adoration. I’m doing Bible in a Year with Father Mike on the Hallow app, and I enjoy starting my mornings with Opening Your Heart.

It’s kind of like in the movie When Harry Met Sally at the very end when Harry goes running to find Sally because he finally woke up and understood his affinity and love for her, and says, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

That’s how I feel about my relationship with God.

Walking with Purpose helped connect me to people who feel the same way and has enhanced my faith life. Remember what 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold new things have come.”

I’m so happy I began this journey back in October, and I look forward to many more years to come.

Thank you.


  • Jane M

    Wonderful post, Stephanie! I have also been more open and receptive to our shared Catholic faith these past few years probably due to Father Mike’s podcasts, The Chosen (tv show) and the Covid shutdown. Your story is inspiring and you are blessed to have found such a supportive community!

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